Looking the Other Way


When one goes to Jerusalem, the obligatory photo that everyone takes is usually shot from the Mount of Olives looking westward toward the Old City. Why is that so popular? Because of the spectacular Dome of the Rock, the Muslim shrine that sits atop the temple mount with the amazing golden dome that seems to dominate the city. I took that shot, too, but often we get so caught up in the obvious that we miss looking around for other images. For example, today’s photo.

I took this photo from near the Dome of the Rock looking eastward, toward the Mount of Olives. What you see is a Jewish cemetery…and I’m told it is the largest one in the world. 

Yesterday, I shared a story about the Biblical Imagination tour we were on and how we were encouraged to imagine how things in the Bible came to be. This image wasn’t shot from the southern steps outside the walls of the old city that lead up to the temple mount, but one like it could have been taken there. Here’s the biblical connection:

The southern steps leading up to the temple mount were a very common place for rabbis to stop and teach their followers. It is almost a certainty that Jesus did that with his disciples. 

On one occasion, he spoke to his disciples and warned them to beware of the religious leaders who were like white washed tombs. It is quite possible that Jesus was looking across the Kidron valley to the Mount of Olives as he was saying those words. You see, to the Jews, passing through a cemetery made a person “unclean” – and if they were “unclean” they couldn’t come into the temple to worship. In order to prevent people from accidentally traveling through the cemetery that was on the Mount of Olives even in Jesus’ day, at times a white barrier was painted around the cemetery to warn pilgrims to avoid the place. 


The religious leaders, Jesus said, were hypocrites. The whiteness on the outside looked beautiful, it it held in all sorts of death and decay. I can easily imagine that Jesus was looking across the valley and saw that sort of view – a cemetery boundary painted white surrounding a bunch of graves full of death – when he describes the religious leaders.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1974, John Denver became a household name. Of his many enormous hits in the 1970s, none captured the essence of John Denver better than his first #1 song, “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” which reached the top of the pop charts on this day.

“Sunshine On My Shoulders” was John Denver’s attempt to write a sad song, which is really all one needs to know in order to understand what made Denver so appealing to so many. “I was so down I wanted to write a feeling-blue song,” he told Seventeen magazine in 1974, “[but] this is what came out.” Originally released on his 1971 album Poems, Prayers and Promises, Denver’s lovely ode to the restorative powers of sunlight only became a smash hit when re-released on his John Denvers Greatest Hits album in late 1973—an album that went on to sell more than 10 million copies worldwide.

It should come as no surprise that an artist who played such an enormous role in the softening of mainstream pop music in the 1970s would find little support from rock critics. “Television music” marked by “repellent narcissism” was Rolling Stone‘s take on Denver. “I find that sunshine makes me happy, too,” wrote Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, “[but] there’s more originality and spirit in Engelbert Humperdink.”

Such critical response did little to dampen public enthusiasm for Denver’s records during his heyday, however. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, John Denver has sold 32.5 million records—4.5 million more than Michael Bolton, and only 4.5 million fewer than Bob Dylan.

Born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. on December 31, 1943, in Roswell, New Mexico, John Denver died in California on October 12, 1997, when the experimental ultra-light aircraft he was piloting crashed into Monterey Bay south of San Francisco.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: researchers believe the word “tabby” comes from Attabiyah, a neighborhood in Baghdad, Iraq. Tabbies got their name because their striped coats resembled the famous wavy patterns in the silk produced in this city.


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